The outspoken author of Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call presents an original piece on the state we’re in and the path to self-determination.


As a settler state, Canada has the second largest territory in the world and a population of only 36 million people. What is strikingly shameful is that despite this, Canada cannot seem to find a solution to environmentally-sensitive Indigenous land rights disputes, and colonization continues. Compared to India with a population density of 386 people per square mile and China with 142, Canada only has a density of 3 people per square mile, most of whom are concentrated in urban centres and close to the southern border. Yet, according to the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, when you add up all the Indian Reserves, they equal a mere 0.2% of Canadian territory. Out of the 600,000 registered Indians entitled to live on these reserves, nearly half live off-reserve. Our populations are small, in part due to the effects of colonization including disease, which reduced some of our populations by 75-90%, the intergenerational effects of residential schools and now our communities’ battles with suicide. Given the size of Canada and our sparse population, we have the capacity to come up with real solutions.

It is important to draw the link between the size of our Indian reserves, our lack of resources to take care of ourselves, and the resulting poverty that we suffer from. I need to be blunt: you cannot improve child and family welfare and health services on Indian Reserves because you cannot generate any revenue from these depleted and minuscule 0.2% territories. If we are going to really bring equality between the lifestyles of settlers and Indigenous Peoples, we need to solve the root cause of our problems and not just treat the symptoms. The root cause is the colonial relationship we have in Canada. Colonization is the dispossession, dependency and oppression of the colonized. Dispossession is the 0.2% Indian Reserves. Dependency is the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Oppression is being arrested for defending your land.

2017 will mark 150 years that we have been colonized by Canada, and Canada is putting lots of money into validating their colonial presence here on our territories. What are you going to do about it? That is the big question Indigenous peoples. Canada holds all the power to make territorial decisions decisions that economically benefit settlers and impoverish Indigenous Peoples and this power is legitimized in the mainstream values of this settler state. We need to challenge values that do not recognize that our poverty is based on our landlessness. We cannot accept that we must suffer colonization in perpetuity simply because the settler state of Canada can racially discriminate against our territorial rights.

Canada must recognize that Indigenous Peoples as colonized nations have the right to self-determination. Self-determination is the international remedy to colonization. We need to understand that the United Nations has globally condemned colonization in all its manifestations. It is Indigenous Peoples who still strive to jettison this outdated and evil system of human relationship. In Canada, colonization is still celebrated by the State, at our expense. There are two forms of discrimination in this country: individual discrimination and institutionalized discrimination. Indigenous Peoples suffer under both, but the more serious form is the institutionalized discrimination, particularly in relation to our territorial land rights. The constitution and the laws of Canada recognize that we do have Aboriginal and Treaty territorial rights, but the federal and provincial governments discriminate against these rights.

We need to bring this kind of discrimination forward to the committee responsible for the implementation of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Canada is scheduled to appear before the committee between July 31 and Agusut 25, 2017. Indigenous Peoples are entitled to make Shadow Reports to the committee, and to explain how we are impacted by Canada discriminating against our territorial rights as Indigenous Peoples. We must emphasize that we no longer want to live under the colonial regime of this country. We are entitled to the right of self-determination, to the implementation of our Indigenous laws, and to control access to and benefit from our territories. Our Indigenous laws should replace legal concepts based on the colonial doctrines of discovery with human rights. We should be given territorial rights through land settlements that can support our language, culture, and economy as Indigenous Peoples. Our self-determination should replace the authority of the colonial regimes of Canada with frameworks that recognize Indigenous Rights as human rights, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

To make this happen, we need to escalate the assertion of our rights from a purely domestic strategy to an international strategy across nations.


Arthur “Art” Manuel (1951-2017) was an activist, scholar and author from the Secwepemc Nation of Interior Salish peoples. He was the son of George Manuel, one of the founders of the National Indian Brotherhood (forerunner of the Assembly of First Nations) and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. Art was one of the most forceful advocates for Indigenous title and rights in Canada. He represented Indigenous peoples on the national and international stage, including serving on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. In 2015 he co-authored the bestselling book Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call. This piece for Issue #4 of Red Rising Magazine was one of his final publications.

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